The German shepherd is recognized worldwide for his remarkable courage, loyalty, and ability to work in virtually any situation with intelligence and an unparalleled eagerness to please. However, this breed is more than an
outstanding working dog; he is also a treasured family pet and companion.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had a thing for German Shepherds, Loyal, Intelligent, Protective and more. During and after my Teen years, Shepherds were the only dogs I owned. Today, I live is a small home with no space for a big dog I had to settle for a Yoshi. Hopefully I can bring one back into the family one of these days.
Building a Lifetime Bond
You may think that it will take months for your shepherd to begin to truly bond with you. In actuality, the bonding begins the moment the dog feels an emotional attachment to you — that is, from the moment when your rescue dog chooses you. From this point onward, the bond builds and strengthens.
You can help reinforce this bond by interacting with your shepherd. It is true that the dog will bond most with the person who spends the most quality time with her. Quality time for a shepherd means learning how to perform new obedience exercises, figuring out new hand signals, practicing agility obstacles, playing endless sessions of fetch, and any other activity that involves mental and physical stimulation.
Dog owners tend to think that if they died, their canines would pine away and never bond with anyone else. Though a dog will certainly miss a loving owner, he will also be very willing to bond closely with a new owner. As the owner of a rescued adult, you have just as great a chance to bond with your dog as if he were a puppy.
The deeper your shepherd bonds with you, the more trusting she will become, too. When you have a dog that knows you would never put her in harm’s way, you will find that you also have a more confident, outgoing shepherd.
The key to working with a rescued shepherd is to take things slowly. Allow her plenty of time to acclimate to your home and lifestyle. Most dogs settle in and begin to show their true, loving temperaments within a month of coming home. Some dogs will acclimate much more quickly; others might take a little longer.
As long as you continue to provide your adopted shepherd with good experiences and persist in your efforts to train her and keep her active, she will thrive and grow into a wonderful pet.
What You Need to Know
IF YOU’VE SEEN ONE SHEPHERD, you’ve seen them all, right? Not exactly. As one of the most popular purebreds in the world, German shepherds do share certain intrinsic qualities; however, there is a fairly broad degree of variance. Externally, German shepherds come in a range of conformation types, coat lengths, colors, and sizes. On the inside, shepherds exhibit a wide variety of drives, athletic abilities, and temperaments. Through understanding the positive and negative qualities inherent in German shepherds, you’ll be better equipped to decide if this breed is right for you.
Due to the wide range of German shepherds that are offered for sale, it is important to know your options. It is also wise to know what qualities are desirable in the breed to find quality, well-bred dogs. Even within the world of reputable breeders, there are different ideals for the perfect shepherd.
- Work, Performance, and Show – The German shepherd is bred for several different reasons: for work (as a police or military K-9); as a “working” sport dog (i.e., VPG) or to compete in all-breed performance events (herding, obedience, agility, and/or other performance events); and for show, where conformation reigns supreme.
- Working Dogs – “Driven,” “relentless,” and “fearless” are just a few of the adjectives that could be used to describe the German shepherds working as K-9s. These shepherds are bred for their intelligence, nerves, endurance, courage, and boldness.
- Performance Dogs and Working Sport Dogs – German shepherds that are bred for VPG, or all-breed performance events, such as herding, agility, obedience, tracking, and other dog sports, are very similar to working dogs. Many times a shepherd from performance VPG or Schutzhund lines (particularly one bred from titled Schutzhund competitors) can become a working dog if he has the correct mixture of drives. These dogs tend to be very confident and intense. They have a high play drive and need lots of interaction with their handlers.
- Conformation Dogs – Dogs bred for the show ring have excellent conformation. Their movement is outstanding, and they generally have the proper coat and coloring. These dogs are bred for excellent temperaments and health, and a reputable breeder will proudly show you generations of dogs certified with good hips and histories of long life spans. Conformation breeders sell the majority of their puppies to people who are looking for a companion or family pet. In even the very best bred litters, only 20 percent of pups are considered show quality; the rest of the litter is sold to pet homes.
The first impression of a good German Shepherd Dog is that of a strong, agile, well-muscled animal, alert and full of life. It is well balanced, with harmonious development of the forequarter and hindquarter. The dog is longer than tall, deep-bodied, and presents an outline of smooth curves rather than angles. It looks substantial and not spindly, giving the impression, both at rest and in motion, of muscular fitness and nimbleness without any look of clumsioness or soft living. The ideal dog is stamped with a look of quality and nobility — difficult to define, but unmistakable when present. Secondary sex characteristics are strongly marked, and every animal gives a definite impression of masculinity or femininity, according to its sex.
- Temperament – The breed has a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence, and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. The dog must be approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence, and have a willingness to meet overtures without itself making them.
- Size, Proportion, Substance – The desired height for males at the top of the highest point of the shoulder blade is 24 to 26 inches; and for bitches, 22 to 24 inches.
- Head – The head is noble, cleanly chiseled, strong without coarseness, but above all not fine, and in proportion to the body. The head of the male is distinctly masculine, and that of the bitch distinctly feminine.
- Neck, Topline, Body – The neck is strong and muscular, clean-cut and relatively long, proportionate in size to the head and without loose folds of skin. When the dog is at attention or excited, the head is raised and the neck carried high; otherwise typical carriage of the head is forward rather than up and a little higher than the top of the shoulders, particularly in motion.
- Chest – Commencing at the prosternum, it is well filled and carried well down between the legs. It is deep and capacious, never shallow, with ample room for lungs and heart, carried well forward, with the prosternum showing ahead of the shoulder in profile. Ribs well sprung and long, neither barrel-shaped nor too flat, and carried down to a sternum that reaches to the elbows.
- Loin – Viewed from the top, broad and strong. Undue length between the last rib and the thigh, when viewed from the side, is undesirable. Croup long and gradually sloping.
- Tail – Bushy, with the last vertebra extended at least to the hock joint. It is set smoothly into the croup and low rather than high. At rest, the tail hangs in a slight curve like a saber. A slight hook (sometimes carried to one side) is faulty only to the extent that it mars general appearance.
- Forequarters – The shoulder blades are long and obliquely angled, laid on flat and not placed forward. The upper arm joins the shoulder blade at about a right angle. Both the upper arm and the shoulder blade are well muscled. The forelegs, viewed from all sides, are straight and the bone oval rather than round. The pasterns are strong and springy and angulated at approximately a 25-degree angle from the vertical.
- Hindquarters – The whole assembly of the thigh, viewed from the side, is broad, with both upper and lower thigh well muscled, forming as nearly as possible a right angle. The upper thigh bone parallels the shoulder blade while the lower thigh bone parallels the upper arm. The metatarsus (the unit between the hock joint and the foot) is short, strong, and tightly articulated.
- Coat – The ideal dog has a double coat of medium length. The outer coat should be as dense as possible, hair straight, harsh and lying close to the body. A slightly wavy outer coat, often of wiry texture, is permissible. The head, including the inner ear and foreface, and the legs and paws are covered with short hair, and the neck with longer and thicker hair. The rear of the forelegs and hind legs has somewhat longer hair extending to the pastern and hock, respectively.
- Color – The German Shepherd Dog varies in color, and most colors are permissible. Strong rich colors are preferred. Pale, washed-out colors, and blues or livers are serious faults.
- Gait – A German Shepherd Dog is a trotting dog, and its structure has been developed to meet the requirements of its work. General Impression — The gait is outreaching, elastic, seemingly without effort, smooth and rhythmic, covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps. At a walk it covers a great deal of ground, with long stride of both hind legs and forelegs. At a trot the dog covers still more ground with even longer stride and moves powerfully but easily, with coordination and balance so that the gait appears to be the steady motion of a well-lubricated machine.
- Transmission – The typical smooth, flowing gait is maintained with great strength and firmness of back. The whole effort of the hind-quarter is transmitted to the forequarter through the loin, back, and withers. At full trot, the back must remain firm and level without sway, roll, whip, or roach. Unlevel topline with withers lower than the hip is a fault. To compensate for the forward motion imparted by the hindquarters, the shoulder should open to its full extent.
German Versus American
- German Lines – Dogs that are said to be from German lines are American-bred dogs that have a lot of German blood in their parentage. In terms of a German shepherd’s pedigree (a record of three generations or more), a breeder should be happy to relate what each dog’s German titles are, what they represent, and how each dog contributes to the breeder’s line German-bred dogs appear in the pedigrees of conformation, performance, and working-dog lines in the United States. Just because a dog has German-bred German shepherds in his pedigree doesn’t necessarily make him a better dog. A quality shepherd is one that comes from generations of titled dogs with good health and excellent temperaments, and whose breeder is working to better the breed.
- American-Bred – Quality American-bred German shepherds can be from working, conformation, or performance lines — or any combination of these. The dogs may have a lot of German influence or very little, and some don’t have any SV-registered dogs in at least the first three generations. Simply put, the American-bred dog can fit any of a number of different categories. As a result, American breeders vary in opinion as to what the ideal German shepherd is and how to achieve the “perfect” dog. In the United States, there are wide variations within the breed as far as conformation, working drive, activity level, and temperament.
Large dogs look very impressive, but there are many issues that must be taken into account with these animals. Any breeder who touts his massive German shepherds as being highly desirable and worth a steep price is not being entirely honest. A dog’s worth does not increase with his size. In fact, breeding “up” in size creates a host of health problems. For one, larger dogs tend to have shorter life spans. Additionally, when a very limited pool of large dogs is used to breed bigger and bigger shepherds, the breeder runs an increased risk of producing puppies with genetic diseases or other conditions that don’t appear in average-sized shepherds.
Within the German shepherd breed, there are three different types of coats to be found: the desirable double coat, the plush coat, and the longhaired coat. All of these coat types appear fairly frequently. The correct “double coat” consists of a downy undercoat with an outer layer of longer, coarse “guard” hairs. Light rain does not penetrate the guard hairs easily and mud tends to dry and fall out of the double coat. This coat doesn’t need extensive care, but a weekly brushing keeps shedding manageable. Regardless, the coat does shed in spring and fall.
The notion of breeding German shepherds to wolves dates back to the 1800s. Max Von Stephanitz spoke out against this idea in 1925 in his book, The German Shepherd in Words and Pictures. His question was a reasonable one: Why reintroduce wild characteristics, unpredictable behavior, and predatory drives into a domesticated, highly trainable dog? Wolf dogs cannot and should not be trusted by humans. These crosses are not German shepherds and should not be purchased or raised as companion animals, no matter how experienced the owner. Though wolf dogs have varying temperaments, there’s no telling when one animal’s wild instincts could rise to the surface.
Puppy or Rescued Adult?
Both puppies and rescued adult dogs have their joys as well as their challenges. Depending on what qualities you are looking for in your new shepherd and what kinds of challenges you are prepared to handle, either a puppy or an adult German shepherd might be suitable for you.
- Puppy – Puppies are cute and cuddly, and their antics are a source of constant amusement. German shepherd puppies, with their fuzzy coats and expressive eyes, are perhaps one of the most irresistible breeds of puppies in the world. Besides these obvious advantages, getting a shepherd as a puppy gives an owner the opportunity to greatly influence the dog’s development. The puppy owner has the opportunity to shape and mold the German shepherd into a model canine companion.
- Adult – One of the greatest benefits of adopting an adult dog is that you know exactly what you are getting. There’s no guesswork. You know precisely how tall the dog will be, how much she’ll weigh, what her coat type is, what her activity level is, and how well she’ll fit into your life. You’ll know if she is housetrained (rescues often are) or if you’ll need to work on that area — and adults learn much faster than puppies.
Male or Female
Female shepherds are sweet, loving, and gentle, and males are tough, courageous, and bold — right? Not really. Both sexes can be equally loving and devoted, and both can be tough and courageous. Females may tend to be a little more protective of their people, whereas males may show more territorial behavior (guarding the house, yard, etc.). Females may be less patient than male shepherds when it comes to tolerating what they consider annoying behavior from children.
As far as conformation, females are not as large as males, and they generally do not weigh as much. Female shepherds tend to appear slightly more refined — or feminine — in conformation than male dogs, too. Neutering tends to make a male that is aggressive toward other dogs (dog/dog aggressive) a little less so, and it eliminates his wanderlust for finding available females. Altering a female eliminates cyclic mood swings (such as anxiety and surliness) that can accompany her seasons.
Are You Ready for a Shepherd?
YOU NOW UNDERSTAND THE PROS AND CONS of the breed, and you’re aware of the range of German shepherds you will find for sale. Before you begin your search for a canine companion, it’s time to take a look at what you are willing and able to offer your German shepherd. This breed does not thrive in all environments. The shepherd needs physical exercise, training, good nutrition, love, and attention, as well as an owner who is confident, consistent, and trustworthy.
The Puppy Pursuit
MOST PEOPLE LOOK TO THE LOCAL newspaper when searching for a puppy. Unfortunately, the pups advertised in the paper are precisely the ones you want to avoid. There is nothing more heartbreaking than investing time and money in nutrition, exercise, attention, and training only to have the puppy turn out to have poor health or an unstable temperament. Finding a quality puppy is well worth the time and effort the search requires.
The Adult Rescue
PUPPIES, BEING SO CUTE AND CUDDLY, are generally the first choice among those looking for a new pet. German shepherd puppies are especially popular, but as they grow older, they are often abandoned or dumped at shelters by owners who are unprepared and uneducated about the breed. According to some statistics, the shepherd is one of the breeds most often found at shelters and picked up as a stray. For this reason, there are countless adult German shepherds needing to be rescued.
Preparing for Your New Dog
THE GERMAN SHEPHERD IS A HIGHLY inquisitive dog that will be interested in every area of your home and yard. For this reason, it is important to stay one step ahead of your puppy or dog by removing any potentially dangerous objects or materials before you bring the dog home.
Bringing Your Shepherd Home
THE DAY IS QUICKLY APPROACHING when you will finally be able to bring home your new German shepherd. Whether you are adopting an adult dog or purchasing a puppy, you have several preparations to make for your new canine.
THE DAYS ARE LONG GONE WHEN it was usual to feed puppies generic puppy food and adult dogs basic, one-flavor-satisfies-all dog food. Consumers have a myriad of choices for their shepherds, but the bottom line is that you need to choose a food that meets or exceeds your German shepherd’s nutritional needs. When a shepherd thrives on a food, his skin is soft and supple (no flaking), his coat is thick and full, his ribs are covered (but not buried), and his energy is boundless.
THE GERMAN SHEPHERD DOES NOT HAVE extensive grooming requirements and is not considered a high-maintenance dog. If your shepherd has a double coat — hard guard hairs over a downy undercoat — he is quite literally a wash-and-go dog. Not all shepherds have a double coat, however, and at some point, regardless of your shepherd’s coat type, he will need a bath — not to mention regular brushing, toenail trimming, and other routine maintenance.
THERE AREN’T MANY DOG PROBLEMS WORSE THAN frequent accidents in the house. In fact, one of the top five reasons owners give for relinquishing a dog to a shelter is that the dog is “impossible to housetrain.” Unfortunately, many people simply give up when the dog does not learn right away. Housetraining does not have to be difficult. As with any other learned skill, its mastery simply requires practice and patience.
POSSIBLY THE MOST CRITICAL NEED your German shepherd has is to be socialized. A socialized dog is one that is comfortable around all kinds of people and dogs, in any location and under any circumstances. The German shepherd is not a naturally social breed. Left to her own devices, she will become increasingly protective and territorial and could perceive every passing person or dog as a threat. Socialization is an absolute necessity.
THERE’S A REASON WHY PUPPIES are so cute. If they weren’t, few owners would put up with the things they do. Actually, that’s part of the problem. If you allow your shepherd puppy to do “cute” things when she’s little, you may be stuck with those no-longer-so-cute antics later, when she weighs sixty pounds (and still thinks she’s a puppy).
Growing Up Is Hard to Do
FOR MANY DOG BREEDS, THE HARDEST PART — raising the puppy — is over by the time the dog is twelve months old. For the German shepherd puppy owner, however, the difficulties are just beginning at this age. During adolescence, the shepherd has almost reached his full height. He is sexually mature and beginning to fill out. This is also the time period during which a shepherd will challenge his owner, test the boundaries of his home, and need more exercise than ever.
Training the Working Dog
PARTNERING WITH A GERMAN SHEPHERD IS AN incredible experience. If you’ve ever gone through a basic obedience training class with another breed, prepare to be wowed by your shepherd. This dog possesses the instincts and the intelligence necessary to learn a task very quickly, as well as the desire to work with his handler endlessly.
Teaching the Basics
GERMAN SHEPHERDS ARE SO INTELLIGENT and eager to learn that there’s really no reason why your shepherd — whether a puppy from top bloodlines or a rescued adult — shouldn’t be able to achieve a Companion Dog obedience title. The shepherd is one of those rare breeds that in three to four repetitions can learn a skill that would take another dog ten to fifteen repetitions. Even if you don’t plan on titling your shepherd, teaching your dog a few basic skills will make her a controllable, well-mannered dog.
Basic Dog Health Care
RAISING A HEALTHY PUPPY and maintaining an adult dog’s good health involve feeding the right foods, giving your shepherd sufficient exercise and mental stimulation, and providing him with excellent veterinary care. Preventive veterinary care is perhaps the most effective way to improve and extend your German shepherd’s life. This is definitely a situation in which $25 or $30 spent today could save you hundreds tomorrow.
IN ADDITION TO PROVIDING YOUR SHEPHERD with the best in preventive veterinary care, you should be aware of several diseases, conditions, and injuries that tend to be particularly problematic for the German shepherd. Armed with this knowledge, you can be on the lookout for symptoms that could indicate that your shepherd needs immediate, veterinary attention. Regardless of the disease, condition, or injury involved, the sooner your shepherd receives veterinary care, the better her chances of recovering.
Competitive Sports for Your Shepherd
THE GERMAN SHEPHERD IS PERHAPS ONE of the most versatile dog breeds. Not only is he capable of participating in and performing well in every sport that is open to all breeds, he also maintains the inherent drives to train and compete in herding trials. The mediocre shepherd, when it comes to performance sports, is usually the exception rather than the rule. Why not pick a sport and try something new with your shepherd?
Other Activities for Your Shepherd
SO YOU DON’T LIKE COMPETING in sports, but you’d still like to do something fun, unique, or exciting with your shepherd? You picked the right breed — the shepherd is capable of participating in a wide range of activities. From helping to brighten a child’s day to saving a person’s life, there are boundless activities that you and your shepherd can do together to make a real difference. The activity you choose is just a question of where your shepherd’s talents lie and how they match up with your personal interests.
Traveling with Your Shepherd
YOUR GERMAN SHEPHERD LOVES TO BE where you are. If you’re driving to the park, she’ll do anything to get in the car and tag along. If you’re planning a weekend in the mountains, she’ll think that’s a great idea, too. Whether traveling by car, train, boat, or plane, if she’s allowed to ride with you and your travel plans will accommodate her, you’ll make your shepherd very happy if you take her along.